To one who knows nothing about Catholicism, Church history, or Pope Francis, Traditionis Custodes might seem like a sober attempt to restore order in the face of attempts by some renegades to foment divisions. In the letter accompanying the Motu Proprio, the pope tells his bishops that he has not acted rashly in enacting the new restrictions because he previously circulated a questionnaire to them regarding the implementation of Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum. He speaks of his sadness in reading the responses to this questionnaire:
“The responses reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene. Regrettably, the pastoral objective of my Predecessors, who had intended ‘to do everything possible to ensure that all those who truly possessed the desire for unity would find it possible to remain in this unity or to rediscover it anew,’ has often been seriously disregarded. An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”
Through the questionnaire responses, the pope discerned a “situation” involving the exploitation of Pope Benedict XVI’s magnanimity to encourage disagreements that block the Church’s path. Which path is that?
This battle over the Mass and the Church’s path was already being waged over forty years ago.
Any conception of the Church’s path necessarily relates to the mission Christ entrusted to it:
“Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Therefore, the Church’s path must involve teaching and defending the truths entrusted to it by Jesus. St. Paul clearly took this mission seriously and wrote that there would come a time when false teachers would put serious obstacles along the path:
“Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
So we must not only seek to learn and practice the Faith, but we must also constantly safeguard it. And, indeed, St. Paul tells Timothy that he has kept his Faith:
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
All good Christians seek to be able to say the same at the end of their lives. This requires us to take great care to follow “sound doctrine” and avoid those who will try to turn us away from the truth.
As it turns out, the “disagreements” Pope Francis mentions in his letter relate directly to the question of whether Pope Francis and his hierarchy are teaching sound doctrine or fables.
The relationship between the preservation of Catholic doctrine and the changes to the Mass has been clear to some people from the introduction of Pope Paul VI’s Mass, but even John Paul II initially underestimated the connection. In his biography of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais described the 1978 meeting between Archbishop Lefebvre and the newly elected pope:
“On November 18, through an initiative of Cardinal Siri, the new Pope received the Archbishop, who said he was ready ‘to accept the Council in the light of Tradition,’ an expression used by Pope John Paul himself on November 6: ‘The Council must be understood in the light of all holy Tradition and on the basis of the constant Magisterium of the hoy Church.’ The Pope said he was happy and saw the problem of celebrating the old Mass only as a disciplinary question. Then Cardinal Franjo Seper, whom the Pope had summoned, exclaimed: ‘Be careful, Holy Father, they make a banner out of this Mass!’”
Whereas the pope was inclined to permit the Tridentine Mass on the basis that it was simply a disciplinary question, Cardinal Seper warned that the SSPX’s preservation of the Tridentine Mass would be a banner that would lead others to go along with the movement to preserve all of Catholic tradition.
With Traditionis Custodes Pope Francis is seeking something more than a simple pinch of incense from the groups that already accept the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo.
Thus we can see that this battle over the Mass and the Church’s path was already being waged over forty years ago. Before looking at how the path of “tradition” and the path of “the Spirit of Vatican II” have diverged during the past four decades, we must also consider another event that holds a key to understanding this current attack.
Bishop Tissier de Mallerais related the effort of Pope Paul VI’s delegates to resolve the disagreement with Archbishop Lefebvre over the question of ordaining priests in 1976. An envoy from Rome, Fr. Edouard Dhanis, delivered a letter from Archbishop Giovanni Benelli forbidding him to conduct the ordination, adding that “if his seminarians were ‘seriously prepared for a priestly ministry in true loyalty to the conciliar Church,’ Rome would undertake to find a better solution for them.” Bishop Tissier de Mallerais described the scene:
“It was about 9 p.m. on June 27, two days before the ordinations. The Archbishop was struck by how nervous his visitor was, but even more by Archbishop Benelli’s expression ‘conciliar Church.’ Holding a missal of Paul VI, Fr. Dhanis pleaded with the Archbishop: ‘Your Grace,’ he said, ‘if today you agree to say this Mass with me, everything will be fine with Rome!’ ‘I have already said Mass,’ replied the Archbishop laconically.”
Why would saying a single Novus Ordo Mass with that priest have made everything “fine with Rome”? What would have changed about the Archbishop or his apostolate?
In his The Horn of the Unicorn, Dr. David Allen White follows his description of the same event by placing it with some of its historical counterparts:
“Just take one small bite and ‘your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.’
Just once write a letter saying, ‘Set ye Urias in the front of the battle, where the fight is strongest,’ and Bethsbee is yours.
Just once ‘command that these stones be made bread.’
Just once fall down and adore me.
Just once celebrate the Novus Ordo Missae.”
Simply being a passenger aboard the “Spirit of Vatican II” train no longer suffices; now one must actively propel it to the destination of apostasy.
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre refused to celebrate the Novus Ordo because he refused to take any steps, regarding the liturgy or otherwise, that he knew would be a serious compromise with the Faith that he had been taught. What scared the innovators was his obstinate defense of the Faith in the face of the novelties that fundamentally differed from what the Church had always taught. He refused to offer a pinch of incense to their destructive efforts.
But of course Traditionis Custodes does not merely seek to have Catholics accept the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo. Indeed, the 2011 instruction Universae Ecclesiae already included the substance of the Traditionis Custodes requirement that bishops “determine that these groups do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs;”:
“The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church.”
The SSPX commentary on this 2011 instruction on Summorum Pontificum, Is the New Mass Legit sets forth the reasons to question the legitimacy of the reforms, even if one accepts the validity of the Novus Ordo.
So, with Traditionis Custodes Pope Francis is seeking something more than a simple pinch of incense from the groups that already accept the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo. He and his collaborators want to make it more clear that the Novus Ordo is the “banner” for everything that Archbishop Lefebvre, and the saints before him, opposed. Having made this clear, he demands that we make a choice between banners. And those who follow Francis must now remove the coals from their thuribles and use them to fuel the Pope’s steam train trying to pull the Church along the path of serving the New World Order. Simply being a passenger aboard the “Spirit of Vatican II” train no longer suffices; now one must actively propel it to the destination of apostasy.
Another archbishop, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, has made it clear that he will stand with the Church against the destroyers from within.
If we wonder why Pope Francis has taken this step now, we ought consider how the diverging paths have weathered the storms since Archbishop Lefebvre’s 1978 meeting with Pope John Paul II.
By any objective measure, the Novus Ordo Path has been disastrous for Catholics. Not only have Catholics abandoned the religion entirely, but those remaining often do not actually have the Faith — they no longer believe what one must believe to be Catholic. Some devout (and long-suffering!) Catholics may remain, but they are growing increasingly rare. And almost every message from Pope Francis attempts to position the Catholic Church as the church for all men except those who believe what the Church has always taught. It will be the church of the New World Order if it continues on that path.
By any objective measure, the Tridentine Mass Path has been tremendously fruitful and blessed for Catholics. Even as society has become more hostile to religion, every reliable indicator of vitality has improved. More importantly, it seems that souls are more zealous and seeking to become saints. They are also defending the Faith just as the saints had done for two thousand years. As part of that defense, they are resisting the attempts of Pope Francis to hand the Church over to the globalists; and, crucially, they are having too much success defending the Church. They are, as Pope Francis indicates, blocking the pope’s path to destroy the Church by insisting that the only path is the one of tradition.
We have arrived at a critical moment, and “the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The Catholic bishops, priests, and laity who wish to remain faithful will have to decide which path to take, for the pope has now made it clear that there are ultimately only two as of the publication of Traditionis Custodes. As such, we owe Pope Francis our gratitude and prayers for clarifying and revealing the situation Archbishop Lefebvre saw so clearly over forty years ago. We also owe him and the Church a duty of loyalty to Truth, which requires us to dissent from every single one of his attempts to take the Church away from the path of serving God.
If we lack the courage to follow the right path, we can look to the example of the countless holy saints who took the path before us. As St. Paul indicated, the right path is seldom easy. But it is the only path we want to be on as we near the moment in which we will face Our Lord in judgment.
Archbishop Lefebvre knew this. And, Deo Gratias, he left us not only the Mass but a heroic life of fighting to keep as many Catholics as possible on the right path. As he wrote in his Open Letter to Confused Catholics, though, even if he was the only one on that path he would not have turned around:
“Besides, the Truth does not depend on numbers and numbers do not make the Truth. Even if I were alone and all my seminarians left me, even if the whole of public opinion were to abandon me, that would be a matter of indifference as far as I am concerned. I am bound to my Creed, to my catechism, to the Tradition which has sanctified the elect in heaven and I want to save my soul. We know public opinion all too well. It condemned Our Lord a few days after having acclaimed Him. It is Palm Sunday followed by Good Friday.”
Of course Archbishop Lefebvre could never have been truly alone, for he stood with the entire Church Triumphant.
Another archbishop, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, has made it clear that he will stand with the Church against the destroyers from within. As he recently wrote, “We are with Saint John and the Sorrowful Virgin at the foot of a Cross on which the new High Priests spit, against which a new Sanhedrin curses and swears.” May we always call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Mother, to give us the strength to stand with her. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!